The prodigal returns - Francis Bacon’s works come home to Madrid museum (With images)

February 19th, 2009 - 11:01 am ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Feb 19 (IANS) Legendary post-war artist Francis Bacon has staged a hero’s return to his adopted home in the 100th year of his birth.

The controversial artist, known for his grotesque figure studies and homosexual liaisons, has for the first time found a place in his favourite museum, the Museo Del Prado or the El Prado museum in this Spanish city, with a retrospective tribute titled “Francis Beacon”.

Bacon’s exhibition is the talk of the international art fraternity because of two reasons. This is the first time El Prado has opened its door to the controversial Bacon, who visited the archive frequently in the last years of his life to cull subjects for his work.

The exhibition features 80 canvases by the master spanning all the creative phases of life.

Bacon, who died in Spain in 1992, visited El Prado frequently towards the end of his life to draw inspiration from his mentor - the famous Spanish Renaissance artist Diego Velazquez.

El Prado - which ranks on a par with the Louvre museum in France - is home to masters like Velazquez, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Murillo and Francis Goya. Charles III, the king of Spain, commissioned it in 1785.

Bacon was influenced by early Renaissance artists Velazquez, El Greco and Francis Goya - all of whose works are hosted by the museum in dedicated sections.

Spain, where the artist had spent several years, had always been Bacon’s source of inspiration. According to the artist, it was Pablo Picasso’s works that first prompted him to take up art as a vocation.

Almost all of Picasso’s works - including his 1927 masterpiece “Guernica” - are exhibited at the Reina Sofia Museum of Contemporary Arts in Madrid.

Bacon, with his hedonistic lifestyles and gay relationships, had been the subject of several controversies, which sometimes took a toll on his art and reputation in the conservative social mosaic of Spain. The country for a long time refused him access into the elite corridors of classical art.

His last exhibition in Spain - a body of 17 canvases - was held in 1978 at the Fundacion Juan March.

The bulk of his significant works - mostly triptychs (series of three paintings) - at the retrospective in El Prado is devoted to his doomed homosexual relationship with the British national George Dyer, who committed suicide in 1971 and to the Biblical theme of Crucifixion, inspired by Velazquez.

A canvas, “Figure in a Landscape”, shows his one-time companion, Eric Hall, sitting on a chair in London’s Hyde Park. The figure is that of Hall, but the face resembles that of a beast - mangled and morphed.

The canvases — “Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer”, “George Dyer in a Mirror”, one humorous composition showing “Dyer Riding a Bicycle” and a memorial triptych depicting Dyer’s death from drug overdose on a commode in a bathroom with a light bulb overhead — speaks of Bacon’s obsession and angst with his men companions.

Male muses were a powerful channel for Bacon - though several of them were young and illiterate drug addicts like John Edwards, who expressed the darker side of existence. The artist, who loved to cross-dress since childhood, had a difficult relationship with his father; once admitting to being sexually attracted to him.

“Bacon used delicate techniques and soft colours to paint subjects of horrors - mostly distorted beastly figures of his companions and religious symbols of the Christians. He was always feeling crucified by the limitations of his relationships, but could not get out of them,” Carmen Ruiloba, an art historian at El Prado, explained to IANS.

The feeling of being trapped in his emotional state was reflected in his subjects — especially in the series, “Three Studies of Figures at the Base of Crucifixion: Studies after Velazquez” — where the morphed figure of Velazquez’s of the seated “Pope Innocent X” was locked in transparent glass cases.

“He lived in a world of sado-masochism, contradictions and beautiful colours,” Ruiloba said.

Spread across six alcoves on the first floor of the historic archive, the exhibition spanning works from 1949 to 1991 was displayed under categories Animal Nature, Anxieties, Crucifixion, Crisis, Portrait and Epic. It also included a section of memorabilia from Bacon’s studio — a collection of photographs — that helped Bacon paint his subjects.

The exhibition, which closes April 19 before moving to New York, as art historian Ruiloba describes, is Spain’s “true homage to post-war contemporary master”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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